Frequently Asked Questions

What is breast cancer?

Cancer is a group of diseases that cause cells in the body to change and grow out of control. Most types of cancer cells even¬tually form a lump or mass called a tumor, and are named after the part of the body where the tumor originates. Breast cancer begins in breast tissue, which is made up of glands for milk production, called lobules, and the ducts that connect the lobules to the nipple.

Who is at risk for getting breast cancer?

All women are at risk. Most women who get breast cancer have no family history of the disease. Risk does go up with age. 95% of new cases of breast cancer occur in women age 40 and older.

Men can get breast cancer but the disease is about 100 times more common in women.

How many cases and deaths occurred in 2011?

About 230,500 cases of breast cancer were diagnosed in women in 2011. There were about 40,000 deaths from breast cancer. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women, exceeded only by lung cancer.

How many women in the US have had breast cancer?

Currently there are more than 2.6 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.

Does breast cancer risk vary by ethnicity?

White non-Hispanic women have a higher rate of breast cancer than African American women; however, African American women are more likely to die of the disease. Women of other ethnic groups have a lower rate of breast cancer than White non-Hispanic women and African American women.

What is ADH?

ADH stands for atypical ductal hyperplasia. This means that the some of the cells lining the breast duct look abnormal. These cells are not breast cancer, but a women who has ADH has about a 4 times higher risk of developing breast cancer in the future than a woman who does not. It is often recommended that women who have ADH on a needle biopsy go on to have a larger surgical biopsy in order to make sure there are no cancer cells nearby.

What is DCIS?

DCIS stands for ductal carcinoma in situ. This means that some of the cells lining the breast duct have become cancerous, but they have not grown through the wall of the duct. DCIS requires treatment because with time, these cells will develop the ability to invade into the duct wall. DCIS is usually treated with surgery and sometimes radiation.

What is LCIS?

LCIS stands for lobular carcinoma in situ. This means that there are cancer cells growing in the lobules of the milk-producing glands of the breast, but they do not grow through the wall of the lobules. Unlike DCIS, it does not become an invasive cancer if untreated. Women who have LCIS have a 7 to 11 times increased risk of developing invasive cancer in the future compared to women who do not have LCIS.

What are the signs of breast cancer?

The goal is to find breast cancer on screening mammogram before any symptoms develop. However, women who have any of the following symptoms should bring them to the attention of their physician: breast swelling or lump, skin irritation or dimpling, breast or nipple pain, nipple retraction, redness or thickening of the nipple or breast skin, nipple discharge. It is important to note that most women with these problems will not have breast cancer. The most common symptom of breast cancer is a painless lump.

How is breast cancer treated if it is found?

There are many options for treating breast cancer. Surgery and sometimes radiation are used to treat the breast. Different options for surgery include lumpectomy (removing part of the breast), mastectomy (removing the whole breast), and mastectomy with reconstruction (removing the whole breast and using plastic surgery to reconstruct a new breast). Chemotherapy and hormone therapy are options for reducing the risk of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body.